Health care reform could take nine months to implement


If, after being sworn in as governor on Jan. 3, Mark Dayton immediately signs an executive order opting the state into the new federal health care law, and its caveat of millions of dollars to support health care coverage for the state’s needy, it could still be nine months before any programming is available.

The paperwork is ready to be submitted, but with system conversions to complete, existing health care programs to merge and delivery systems to be developed, the state’s Medicaid director, Brian Osberg, told the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division that Oct. 1, 2011, is a likely start date. No action was taken.

End-of session negotiations over the state’s General Assistance Medical Care program garnered a deal that allows the new governor to decide whether to opt into the federal program – something Gov. Tim Pawlenty has balked at.

Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth), the division chairman, said the Department of Human Services has known the opt-in was a possibility and asked Osberg why they wouldn’t be ready for immediate implementation as soon as the governor signs the order.

“Providers are losing money,” Huntley said. “Basically you’ve blown a year. It better not take nine months.”

Osberg countered that the cost of developing programming with only a possibility of implementation was not a good use of resources. “We are not in the position of spending resources without the executive order,” he said.

The committee also heard a review of the department’s November 2010 Forecast of expenditures.

General Fund costs for medical and economic support programs (not including Medicaid expansion) for the 2010-2011 biennium are projected to total $7.15 billion, down $168 million from end of session 2010 estimates. Research Director George Hoffman said lower than expected service costs across several Medical Assistance services account for most of the reduction.